White House chief of staff defends decision to keep Pence on road

White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Graham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid MORE declined to say how many people in Vice President Pence’s office have contracted the coronavirus during a contentious CNN interview while defending the decision to keep Pence on the road in the presidential campaign's final stretch.

In response to questioning from anchor Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperFrederica Wilson rails against Haitian deportation flights, calls treatment 'inhumane' Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Fauci on FDA advisers' booster recommendations: 'I don't think they made a mistake' MORE about the number of positive cases, Meadows said, "We don't give out that kind of information."

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Meadows reiterated the White House’s argument that Pence serves as an essential worker and therefore is permitted to continue campaigning as Election Day looms.

When asked how campaigning is “essential work,” Meadows said, “Well, actually, he’s not just campaigning. He’s working,” citing the administration’s Middle East peace agreement. 

Pence chief of staff Marc Short and adviser Marty Obst have both tested positive for COVID-19. Pence has tested negative for the virus. 

Cases across the country are spiking just more than a week before Election Day. President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE's handling of the virus has been the dominant issue in the campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE hammering the White House over how it has dealt with the pandemic.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said during the interview. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Meadows and Tapper frequently talked over one another during the interview.

Tapper pressed Meadows on Pence’s campaigning, to which the chief of staff responded, “I’m not saying he’s not campaigning. I’m saying that is only part of what he’s doing.”

"As we look at that, essential personnel, whether it's the vice president of the United States or anyone else, has to continue on,” Meadows added. 

Meadows said Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines indicate that essential personnel can do their jobs while wearing a mask. 

“I can tell you that what he’s doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing, and when he goes up to speak he will take the mask off, put it back on,” he said.

Pence held a rally in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday and did not have a mask on while speaking. 

Tapper also confronted Meadows about a New York Times report that said the White House chief of staff wanted to keep news of an outbreak in Pence’s office under wraps, which Meadows said “obviously” wasn’t “a report.”